18th December

Funding crisis for non-Gaeltacht Islands

A spokesman for the non-Gaeltacht Community Development Projects (CDPs) has lashed out at a government decision to cut the budget for the non-Gaeltacht islands by 24% saying it brings into question whether the Island Community Development Offices can continue to operate.

Bere Island

Islanders question government commitment to sustaining non-Gaeltacht islands Photo Helen Riddell

In a letter to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Simon Murray of Inisbofin describes this latest cut, due from April 1, as “savage”. This 24% cut comes on the back of a 9.5% cut in 2013 and a 3% cut in 2011 which adds up to a staggering 36.5% cut to the budget for the non-Gaeltacht islands during the lifetime of this government,” Murray says.

Speaking to Inshore Ireland, Murray questioned this government’s commitment to sustain the non-Gaeltacht Islands, describing its approach as “Death by a thousand cuts. “It seems to me this is a clear message to communities like ours that the current government is not committed to sustaining non-Gaeltacht Islands. I would request Minister Kelly - at a very minimum - to maintain the 2014 level of funding through 2015 and to work towards increasing the budget to what it was before all the cuts, from 2016 onwards,” he said.

The five island community development projects of Bere; Sherkin; Inishbofin; Inishturk and Clare Island were established by the then Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in the 1990s through its community development programme. From 2011, the five have operated on the basis of a service level agreement with the islands’ local development company, Comhar na nOileán, through an infracturctural and community hub on each island receiving LCDP funding through Comhar na nOileán.

Simon Murray believes that the wider issue of funding for the Non-Gaeltacht Islands needs to be examined, and that what he believes to be the “confusion and uncertainties surrounding it” must be clarified.

“This is a very complicated issue it’s even more complicated now with the proposed closure of FORUM Connemara Ltd in Letterfrack. But to cut a long story short, government needs to reassess the entire SICAP Programme and the way it was rolled out nationally. As islanders we didn’t quite fit into this Programme and nationally too there were a lot of issues about its effectiveness.

"One answer might be to create a new islands development programme, something like we had for sixteen years. That might be an imaginative way of looking at a sustainable way to fund island development,” he concluded.

Response to Inshore Ireland

Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and Minister of State Ann Phelan recently acknowledged the work of their colleague, Minister of State Joe McHugh, and thanked him for his foresight and pragmatism in working with him on a revised scheme of support for the non-Gaeltacht islands. The islands are Bere, Sherkin, Heir, Whiddy, Long and Dursey in Co. Cork, Inishbofin in Co. Galway, Inishturk and Clare in Co. Mayo.

Minister Kelly emphasised that both Departments fully understand the importance of the island community development infrastructure on the non-Gaeltacht islands, currently funded through his Department’s Local and Community Development Programme, and he confirmed that both Departments will work together to ensure that the services they provide are retained.

This approach will see these islands, and relevant supports, becoming a key function of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP) funding for these community groups will continue until the end of March 2015, pending the roll out of a revised new system which will be led by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Minister Kelly has confirmed that his Department is contributing significant funding to the new scheme in order to maintain funding at close to 2014 levels. Minister of State McHugh has said that while he is aware that the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP), the successor programme to the LCDP, will operate in all Local Authority areas, the funding from his Department will assist with the delivery of other essential services for these island communities and his Department will seek to enhance this delivery into the future through engagement with the communities on the non-Gaeltacht islands.

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